D1 Grand Prix: Round 1 in Odaiba
D1 Grand Prix started off at its usual spot in Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan: in a parking lot. While parking lot layouts might not sound like the most appealing venue, it's a central location for Odaiba and convenient for Tokyo residents to attend; and with a lot of nearby attractions, it is great area for family outings. Plus, it adds a level of unpredictability for drivers and spectators. Anyone who has participated in a parking lot event, whether autocross, gymkhana or drift is probably familiar with all the unevenness of the pavement.
This year was the first time we can recall the opening round ever having rain. This added an additional level of anxiety and anticipation, depending on who you were. Combine this with the characteristics of a parking lot, and it led to water collecting in certain spots of the track and exasperated any traction loss resulting in loss of control. For the 45 drivers registered to compete, it was definitely an interesting way to kick off the season.
The first runs of the day reduced the field from the top 24 qualifiers down to 16. These runs, called "Tanso," are solo runs where each driver gets two passes in order to secure a top 16 position and thus making it to the quarter finals.
During these runs, Takahiro Ueno had an unfortunate accident and found the wall at the turn one entry. This left the front left side of his Toyota Soarer pretty damaged and ended his day early. Hideyuki Fujino would take the No. 2 position in his Nissan 180sx, with Masato Kawabata taking the No. 1 position in his Nissan Skyline GTR R35.
Brackets to the Final Four
Competition shook out during the top 16 with only two lower seed upsets, including a battle of S15s between #4 Kazuya Taguchi and #13 Akira Hirajima (remember that name: Hirajima). Speaking of remembering names, #15 Daigo Saito might sound familiar as a former competitor in the U.S. Formula D Pro series. Unfortunately for Daigo fans, he hit the wall early with the rear of his Chevrolet Corvette C6 on the entry of turn one.
In the quarter finals, Hirajima continued his reign of upsets taking out #5 Kenji Kiguchi and his Nissan Laurel C33. While #2 Masato Kawabata and his Nissan Skyline R35 made it out easy after Saito's crash, Kawabata took himself out after hitting #7 Masanori Kohashi, causing his Nissan S15 to spin out and thus award him the upset victory to the semi finals.
The semi finals put #1 Hideyuki Fujino, who had been dominating in his Nissan 180sx, against Hirajima, who had been setting upsets all day. Unfortunately for the fans, we will never know if Hirajima still had some magic in him that day because he suffered a mechanical failure and was forced to withdraw. Kohashi would join Fujino in the finals after defeating #6 Masashi Yokoi and his Nissan S15. Yokoi is another competitor who spent a year abroad in the U.S. Formula Drift Pro series last year. Because of Hirajima's withdrawal, Yokoi was automatically awarded the third place trophy.
The Final Battle
The rain let up as we headed in the finals and lead to an exciting battle with Fujino seemingly able to out speed Kohashi. The first pass with Fujiya leading left a large gap between him and Kohashi. The second pass, with Fujino's speed, had him closing the distance and pushing Kohashi.
Best tandem award went to Yokoi vs. Kohashi during the semi finals. Even though they only were able to get one run in, it was the best tandem of the day.
Saito's new Corvette C6 looked amazing and the sound was just incredible. Definitely unique in a crowd of primarily inline, turbo-equipped engines.
Saito wasn't the only one running American muscle. Kohashi's Team Orange Nissan Silvia S15 was rocking an LSX. It seems some of the U.S. drift setups are making their way to Japan.
Tetsuya Hibino was supposed to be running his new Honda S2000 but we were only able to see it parked on display. Hibino still did well in his Supra from last year.
Kazuya Matsukawa's AE85 has fitted a twin-turbo 2GR-FSE V6. Normally found in Toyota sedans, it makes for a pretty tight fit into the small engine bay of the AE85. Producing over 700 horsepower in this car that weighs so little means we have high expectations.